by Rachel Campbell

‘It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.’ –Oscar Wilde

It seems to have become quite a thing to try to read fifty books in a year. I’ve seen it discussed on social media, heard it mentioned in conversation, and I was even told of someone who makes a living speaking about it. Extensive reading, it would seem, is fashionable!

And not only is reading fashionable, it is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I’m pleased that I was raised in a time when, with the distractions of a screen only just emerging, reading remained king. From the age of about ten, I steadily made my way through the classics of the Nineteenth Century: Alcott, Bronte, Austin and the like.

After university, I became a teacher of young children. Children learn in different ways. For some children the progress in learning to read is steady, but for others there is a moment of realization when their reading takes off. For a teacher of little ones, there is nothing else like that moment!

When I became a Mum myself, I loved reading with my children. It didn’t bother me that they craved the same stories over and over, I was happy to oblige. Doing jigsaws and playing board games were acts of duty, reading with my child was a joy.

Our son, Ben, embraced what was read, re-enacting the stories with his toys. For a while, Ben insisted on calling us the names of A.A. Milne’s famous characters. He would only answer to Piglet and his best mate, my Dad, was Pooh. I became Kanga, and our new baby, Roo, while my husband, somewhat inevitably, became Eeyore! Together ‘Piglet’ and ‘Pooh’ went on adventures and transformed our garden into 100 Acre Wood.

Reading together became such a valued part of our family life that my husband and I continued to read with our kids long after they could read for themselves. We shared with them the Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series, reading on some occasions until we were hoarse, embracing this relational aspect of reading and valuing the conversations that were sparked. The children delighted in the accents I would attempt for different characters.

And I continued to read myself, but in the sleep-deprived existence of a young Mum, my chosen subject matter tended to be trivial and escapist. It wasn’t until I was invited into a book club that I began to think a little more about what I was reading. I started to keep a tally of the books I read each year. In 2013 I managed a mere 13 books; by 2018 I had read 49, and last year I hit the dizzy heights of 54 books. This wasn’t part of the ‘50 a year’ trend but just to satisfy my love of books as well as celebrate a time in my life when the children are more independent, and I’m slightly less tired!

But it would be wrong to reduce reading to just a numbers game – it’s more about what we read than how much. Although I continue to enjoy the escapism of novels, I now tend to restrict reading them to holiday periods. In recent years on holiday, I’ve enjoyed Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and works by authors including Philippa Gregory, Victoria Hislop (particularly ‘The Island’, about the leper colony off the island of Crete, so good!) John Grisham, and David Baldacci.

But most of my reading time is now committed to reading more challenging books which feed both mind and soul. Some books and authors that have made it onto that list include Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution by Alister McGrath, The Cross of Christ by John Stott, Prisoner of Geography by Tim Marshall, A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, and My Sunflower Girl by Dyfan Williams (Dyfan is a friend of mine, a pastor, and he and his wife lost their daughter when she was 10, 16 years ago, and this is his moving, poignant, poetic story).
There are many others but some of the writers I like include: Lewis, Julian Hardyman, Jen Wilkin, John Stott, Tim Keller, Paul Mallard, R.C. Sproul, and John Piper.

Over time this presented a new challenge because I now began to experience a desire, even a need, to release some of these accumulated words. There needed to be an overflow pipe, a balance of output with input. I had written for our church and for the charity, Care for the Family for which I volunteered, and was enjoying writing talks for the ministry course I was on, but I wanted to go further than this.

The date of the 17th April, 2019, is a memorable, I would even go as far as to say a transformational, day for me. This was the day that The Perennial Gen published my first piece. As a family, we were enjoying a short holiday staying in a Medieval Tower in Norfolk, England, and although we had limited WIFI, I was glued to my phone savoring the happiness of seeing my words released to others. Thank you, Michelle and Amanda! The acceptance of my writing has encouraged me to write more and became part of the impetus that has led to post-graduate study.

We would all acknowledge the close relationship between reading and writing. A child will struggle to write until they have some grasp of reading, and even for us adults, reading remains the parent, writing the offspring. By maintaining the parental role of reading, our writing, the offspring, will mature. To neglect reading risks our work becoming an echo chamber to our own beliefs, whereas to continue to embrace reading nourishes our creativity, challenges our perceptions and enriches our writing.

I hope 2020 will bring further opportunities to write, and to write in a way that is informed by rigorous, challenging, enriching, and, just occasionally, escapist reading.

Note from Michelle and Amanda: It is our honor to share the voices of both new and seasoned writers. Thank you, Rachel, for sharing your overflow with PerGen readers!

Rachel Campbell adheres to the view that there are so many wonderful books and so little time. She lives with her New Zealand husband, Grant, and their three children in a house that has run out of room for any more bookcases. When taking a break from reading and writing, she tweets @OurRachToo and can be found on Instagram @rachel-e-campbell.